WestCare Program For AIDS, HIV Gets Grant

ImageThe following story was printed in the Fresno Bee on November 29th and was written by Barbara Anderson…

The kitchen is an important place at The Living Room, a support center in Fresno for people who have the virus that causes AIDS.

People come to the center not only for counseling and peer support, but for hot lunches and sack lunches, and bags of food filled from a pantry that’s stocked with everything from tuna and cereal to rice and beans and canned fruit.

Even before these tough economic times, food ran short by the end of the month for many of the clients at WestCare’s The Living Room, who have an average income of $800 a month. "To some of our clients, a bag of rice and a bag of beans is life sustaining," said Toni Harrison , case manager.

Now, with a $45,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente, the kitchen will be open next year for breakfast along with the lunch that is now being served two days a week, and the pantry will stay full and have more fresh foods.

Ahmad Bahrami , coordinator of community involvement for WestCare, said the grant came at a good time. The price of food has gone up.

"The economy has had an impact on us in our ability to serve clients," he said. "The cost of the food for our meal program has almost doubled from November last year to this year."

About 70 people get bags of food at the pantry twice a month. The Living Room would like to be able to serve 100, Bahrami said.

The increasing cost of food is bringing more people to the pantry for help, he said. "They’re able to buy even less food," he said. "Our food pantry is even more of a resource than before."

Cindy and Timothy White of Fresno rely on the extra food they get at The Living Room to supplement their food budget.

The couple has had to make a $762 Social Security check stretch each month.

"If it wasn’t for the pantry, sometimes we wouldn’t have any food," said Cindy White, 42.

Free food sometimes is what brings people to The Living Room, Bahrami said. But other services often keep them coming back.

Beatriz Diaz, 53, of Fresno , picks up a bag of food when she attends a women’s support group at The Living Room twice a month.

"We get to talk about our problems," she said. "It’s just a comfortable place to sit and talk to the ladies."

The Living Room is one of the few local resource centers for people who are HIV-positive and for those who have AIDS, said Dr. Toussaint Streat, a primary care physician at the Kaiser hospital in Fresno and a member of The Living Room board of directors.

Kaiser’s grant to The Living Room was announced just days before World AIDS Day, which is Monday. The grant is part of $1 million being given statewide to nonprofit organizations that promote HIV and AIDS awareness, prevention, screening, support and treatment.

The human immunodeficiency virus known as HIV attacks the immune system and causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The virus makes people vulnerable to a number of infections that can be deadly. A blood-borne virus, it’s spread primarily through sexual intercourse and from the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles.

More than 1,620 cases of AIDS have been reported in Fresno County between February 1983 and October 2008, and 865 people have died.

People continue to be diagnosed with HIV infections and show up at The Living Room seeking food and services, Streat said.

With the Kaiser grant, The Living Room will be able to meet the clients’ needs, he said.

"They’re living on very little," Streat said. "If this dried up, they wouldn’t have anything."

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 441-6310.



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